Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Take Action: The International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA)

Help support the re-introduction and passage of the I-VAWA (International Violence Against Women Act) that would make fighting violence against women a priority for US foreign policy and give the force of law to the State Department Office for Global
Women's Issues.

The United States could be doing more to combat rape in conflict, high rates of domestic violence around the world, human trafficking, and other forms of violence against women.

TAKE ACTION - Add you name to the signatures sending a messsage to President Obama and Vice President Biden - that stopping violence against women needs to be a US priority:


Friday, August 21, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Femicide in Guatemala - Al-Jazeera Report

Al-Jazeera English's Teresa Bo examines femicide in Guatemala


Violence Against Women In Guatemala LINKS

Visit You tube link for a video on Guatemala Women Targeted by Street Gangs


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Socio- Political Context - Delegation Meeting Summary

In summary – the Guatemala Human Rights Commission – 2009 ‘Women’s Right to Live’ Delegation = 7 days = 15 meetings with groups/individuals, 15 members of the delegation – 14 women, one man from a variety of walks of life, a variety of perspectives. Together we shared an intense week, an experience that bonds us together in a unique way en solidaridad con las mujeres de Guatemala (in solidarity with the women of Guatemala)

Our learning and sharing during our time together was based on the popular education model , the methodology is about equality, that we are all experts of our own life experiences, and we are obligated to share, a participatory process, a process of breaking down barriers of positions of power and authority. This model extended to the women and organizations we met with.

Reminds me of a quote I’ve found as a guide in my work “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together”

To reiterate we meet with:
STITCH a women workers & violence in the workplace union organized in 1990. First the women where fighting for land rights and the right to organize and make decisions. As leaders they often became victims of violence. In 1947 the first Union was organized, work conditions were very bad with 16 hour work days. To get housing on the plantations the women were forced to sleep with the men owners. In 1972 they started bargaining with the United Fruit Company for rights of women to correct the wrongs and to gain labor benefits. After Hurricane Mitch 900 workers were fired. Currently there are about 40,000 workers on the South coast, working for Dole. Indigenous women are discriminated against more in the workplace.

The women have a sense of unity as they work together to challenge labor and economic obstacles across four regions, with each having a representative. Women continue to face sexual harassment and threats for speaking out. Wages have improved they now get about 100 Quetzals a day – but they work 9 hour days and they must pack 45 boxes of bananas a day – that’s 405 boxes of bananas every day. Back – breaking work.

UPAVIM is a cooperative that provides opportunities for the women to come together supporting five programs in their very dangerous community in Zona 12 of the city. They shared stories of their history of ‘reclaiming’ the water and their land, of coming together as women to take a stand and to make a difference for themselves and their children. They develop crafts, support a child care Montessori school a nursery, a pharmacy, and a health clinic. UPAVIM = together for a better life. Visit their site at www.upavim.org and consider purchasing some of their crafts.

Gladys Monterroso a lawyer, law professor, political party secretary, wife of Procurador, victim of a March 25, 2009 kidnapping/torture. She courageously shared the story of her experience and the frustration with the justice system and her efforts to be heard and to bring her kidnappers to justice.
She will be coming to VCU in Richmond October 20, 2009 – join us to hear her testimony.

Survivors Foundation – Claudia Maria Hernandez, daughter of Norma Cruz meet with us to share the story of the program and services, legal, psychological counseling and crisis support and witness protection programs. They are working to influence the security agenda in Guatemala, to accompany victims, to strengthen the public prosecutor’s office and to denounce the sexual violence and impunity that plagues their community. They have They asked us to assist them in sharing info on violence against women in Guatemala especially in an effort to support women that come to the United States seeking asylum.

Myrna Mack Foundation were we learned about Myrna Macks’ work as an anthropologist studying populations in northwest areas of Guatemala a region severely hit by the war. In 1990 she wrote a report on the internally displaced – and was stabbed 22 times on September 11, 1990 by a special assassin of the mayor. Her sister Helen put pressure on the government for years to identify and prosecutor the material author of the crime, ultimately military officers were charged in her murder. Finally in Nov, 2003 an International Court ruled against the Guatemalan state and ordered reparations.

In 1993 Helen Mack received a Foundation for Peace Prize and used the money to establish the Myrna Mack Foundation. They recently published a major report on Impunity, Stigma and Gender which analyzes the gaps in the justice system and makes recommendations for improvements to bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

Rosa Franco’s daughter Maria Isabel Franco was 15 years old when she was killed on December 16, 2001. She was working in a boutique, a narcotics trafficker fell in love with her, but she wanted nothing to do with him, She was killed, tortured, raped and mutilated. Rosa worked initially with Amnesty International about the case, they did an investigation that have never been done before. The prosecutor said her daughter was a prostitute because she wore a short skirt. Rosa has written to President Bush of US and Guatemala.

In November 2006, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR )accepted a petition against the Guatemalan government for having failed to ensure a timely investigation in the murder of Maria Isabel. This is the first femicide case heard by IACHR

Rosa stated she is seeking action against the Guatemalan government for being complicit in her daughter’s death. The drug trafficker who killed her daughter had connections to military, the army. He lives near Rosa, and regularly harasses her, watches her, follows her and her sons . She now has some security paid for by the government which accompanies her everywhere. She worries because many of the security people are corrupt and want to work only with rich people

Rosa went to DC in March 2009 for the hearing at the IACHR a number of Guatemalan state representatives attended to testify against her. They have offered friendly agreement; a meeting is to be held Thursday August 13, to encourage Rosa to accept. “I refuse to accept – it is like I was selling my daughter – I want justice” They have offered they will name a street after my daughter. Rosa’s daughter would be 24 years old this year – but she reminded use of how much she has lost, how devastating this has been to her and her sons. She said again I want to live in peace – I want justice”

Sandra Moran of Women’s Sector at Casa Artesana
We shared dinner and conversation with Sandra Moran, an activist, feminist, and musician. she shared her story and talked of the work of her organization the Women’s Sector. They worked to bring the voices of women to the Peace Accords, working to have women recognized as having the right to organize, to talk, to meet. They organized 25,000 women to form a National Women’s Forum. Their work has been about consciousness raising, building a feminist movement in Guatemala with all the diversity, including forming 5 lesbian collectives and creating a lesbian political school and Latin America Conference. She shared her experience of being in exile for 14 years spending time in Nicaragra, El Salvador and Canada. A lively feminist discussion with Sandra reminding us that if we infuse ourselves into beauty, good energy and strength we come from that position – then “we are not struggling against we are building “

The room was bright and colorful filled with art from women in prison in Guatemala. She called it “art that cures” they work with over 250 women in prisión through music, theatre, painting, and dance. The women’s sector organizes and trains facilitators to create teams of women for non-competitive sports.
The future doesn’t arrive it must be built….

Carolina Alvarado of the Presbyterian Kachikel Health Clinic in Chimaltenango provides medical, psychological, legal services including classes on laws, self-esteem and the constitution. They promote services via radio, pamphlets and posters in nearby communities. Carolina shared of new work they are doing with “forgotten women” – sexoservidoras = sex workers. Many area bar owners enslave the women, maintaining control by encouraging dependence through alcohol and drugs. They have been working to assist these women when they visit area health clinics since this is the only access the program can have with the women. Their dream is to open a shelter where women can stay in a program for one year and receive support and job training.

Nuevos Horizontes
domestic violence services in Xela
Maria a social worker was our host. This program has been around for 20 years created from the work of 3 people from the United States and 2 Guatemalans with a visión to help victims and their children. The services are provided as a holistic integrated service center including individualized social, medical,, legal, psychological and shelter services. They do outreach to sex workers and to women in prisión.

Their groups are offered to community women with a goal to be a model similar to “worker ants- teaching women they have rights and then those women teach other women.” She stated all our programs are educational – this is how we promote change” They start by teaching traditional skills like sewing and cooking, this i show the women get permission to attend – then they interject rights and educational information into the weekly meetings. Groups have evolved to organize income generating projects. Women have a right to earn own livelihood. Helps them know they can provide for themselves. It helps women have options to leave the abuse.

They provide medical services including paps, HIV testing, screening for cervical cáncer since alot of women in the area don’t have money to go to the hospital for such tests. They also provide education on reproductive rights and family planning.

Many of the staff are survivors , the dedication these women have with so few resources is inspiring. They often face threats to the staff and program including threats to burn the shelter down, men coming to the building with guns in an attempt to intimidate. They have been robbed two times and it was clear from what was taken it was the husband of one of their residents.

In the next 6 months the are expanding by building another shelter outside of the city with support from Dutch funders and the US.

midwives project in Xela
Health is a right !! They founded this group to promote the value and work of midwives who have not been recognized by the traditional health system. 80 % of the births in the area are attended by midwives. Their work is based in traditional health practices. They work in 20 municipalities with over 700 midwives. They have a school with a holistic training model – 2 years of training including traditional and technical midwife skills, mental health, political, civic, and organizing skills.

One of their goals is to lower the maternal mortality rates. They offer a clinic for pre-natal and other medical needs along with treatment for children. They also treat people who have been cursed. They use the popular education model and encourage older midwives training the younger generation. Births are free in the public hospital but Mayan women fear discrimination
The midwives charge about 25 quetzals per visit, but often accept eggs or other items in exchange for their service.

Highland Support Project sponsored women's micro-enterprise project in the small Mayan Mam village of Espunpuja outside of Zunil.

See blog on Mayan Women Warriors August 9, 2009

Thursday August 6

ACAM Midwives
project in Concepcion Chiquirichapa. We meet with 5 midwives and Phillipe the husband of Elana Ishcok, they had been exiled in Vermont for 25 years – they returned to their home village of Conception and have worked with 3 area villages to bring services and education to the women and families of these communities.

They shared of their concerns about the young women and boys growing up today, they feel that technology is ruining their culture. The youth have no respect and don’t have interest in listening to the wisdom of elders.

We heard wonderful stories of traditional Mayan culture directly from their experience, their connections to mother earth. Their philosophy of cosmo vision made up of earth, fire, water and air. They talked of the many grandmothers and grandfathers killed during the war, which took away their connections to their history and customs. They felt there were many methods to eradicate their identities, to tear them from mother earth. They stated there are many ways to wage ware and currently there is still a war on their culture. Such as corn that is now prepackaged which takes away the sacred process or drying, boiling and cooking the tortillas, multi-national companies are taking away their identities, seeds and pesticides are being introduced taking away sacred elements in our culture. It is a source of “great sadness, we are trying to stay connected to mother earth”

He pronounced that “we were invaded not conquered – we are still here !!”

Xajaxac-Community Radio Station – Solola
Don Felipe started the station 11 years ago as a Mayan radio station serving over 10,000 people in a 10 km area of 8 nearby villages. They transmit from a small multi-purpose building( car repair, grocery, pharmacy_ in the pueblo of Xajaxac. It is part of a cultural survival program. Programming is 100 % cultural with children’s programming to teach reading and writing, news programs, local, national and international, information on health and vaccine programs, Ranchera music to “make people happy” . We had 3 of our team have a opportunity for live messages about violence against women. Even in these remote villages everyone has a radio, even if it is a small battery operated one, and many listen all day even as they work the fields so radio is a very important way to share information in these remote areas. The station receives significant pressure from the government Ministerio Publico (the public defenders office) who wants to outlaw them! That because it is considered “illegitimate” – but a new law is being presented that will seek legitimacy for established community radio stations such as this.

Friday August 7

US Embassy – see blog posted August 9, 2009

Ana Gladis Ollas – Human Rights Ombudsman in the women’s sector . Her work is within government yet part of civil society organization. She understands the system – but has found a way to feel good about what she is doing. Not just a bureaucratic level – but understands where the holes are .
She was the quintessential advocate working to change the system, but also directly available for the women that contact her, accompanying them to court, finding services and shelter for them. She said she is from a rural area so knows the obstacles women face.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Women are Dying...

This quote speaks to me of the choices we make in our world today – where the priorities are. Though it states diseases, it could also be said about violence we don't stop, social programs we don't provide, services we don't fund, and policy we don't make that protects and supports women:

“Women are not dying because of diseases we can’t treat….. they are dying because societies have not made the decision that their lives are worth saving. “

Dr. Mahmoud Fathalla - Egypt

Helicopters vs Women

The US recently authorized $20 million of our money to be used in helicopter purchases for Guatemala and the D.R. While only $500,000 is earmarked for USAID programs addressing violence against women each year for the past three years.
In Guatemala in 2008 - at least 722 women where murdered, 2 die a day and this year the numbers are expected to increase by at least 30%.

[Federal Register: July 30, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 145)]
[Notices][Page 38078
DEPARTMENT OF STATE -Public Notice 6714

Determination Pursuant to Section 451 of the Foreign Assistance
Act Relating to the Guatemala and Dominican Republic Helicopter

Pursuant to section 451 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended (the ``Act''), section 1-100 of Executive Order 12163, as amended, and Delegation of Authority 245-1, I hereby authorize, notwithstanding any other provision of law, the use of up to $20,000,000 in FY 2008 funds appropriated for counter narcotics activities in the Andean region of South America under chapter 8 of part I of the Act, in order to provide assistance authorized by part I of the Act for the countries of Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. This Determination shall be reported to the Congress promptly and published in the Federal Register. Dated: July 15, 2009. Jacob L. Lew, Deputy Secretary of State, Department of State.[FR Doc. E9-18224 Filed 7-29-09; 8:45 am]

text: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-18224.htm

pdf: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/pdf/E9-18224.pdf

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mayan Women Warriors - August 5

We traveled outside of Quetzaltenango (Xela) west toward San Marcos to remote Espumpuja - a small village of indigenous Mayan women (not to be found on any google maps). The group of women is connected to Richmond via the Highland Support Project.

The road was very rough and filled with deep ruts and pot holes, we ended up getting out of the van so not to bottom out, we walked a ways up the road, soaking in views of mountains, small patches of sustenance farming plots, children playing, laundry laid on roof tops and fences, small homes pieced together with blocks, rock and tin. When we arrived the women asked us to join them in a circle. (they call them women’s circles)

We did an introduction as they asked us to share what was in our hearts. The Mayan women did a kind of simultaneous chant of prayers. Then we played a version of the game of Simon Says – which was hilarious for all – translated from Mayan language of Mum, to Spanish and to English – we followed non- verbally and laughed together as each of us was called out for not following what Simon said to do.

We then broke up into two groups since there were so many of us and we watched the women cut and fry bananas and we learned how to make tortillas, another group watched them weave. The women are considered backstrap loom weavers in the western highlands of Guatemala, a unique and labor intensive form of weaving – we watched in amazement at the intricacies and patience as they added threads of varied colors and patterns that ultimately created the beautiful blankets, wraps, and table pieces that we saw. Several of our group purchased a large blanket type cover and asked to find it took over 100 hours of time to create – it was purchased for about $60. I purchased a lovely shawl and had the chance to take a picture with the woman who made it with such skill and care.

We shared time together amidst turkeys and dogs and children roaming around the yard. Wood smoke permeated the air as they boiled water to make us hot cocoa. They had a sweat lodge type of building, and a large space for their supplies, a pela to wash hands, and clothing. The women didn’t live at this site, but apparently used if for their weaving and daily activities.

After we had an opportunity to purchase some of their weavings we saw the children giggling and running up the hill picking lily’s and wrapped in a piece of their weavings and they gave one to each of us, with joy and love and big hugs and smiles on their faces. It was an amazing experience.

There are really no way I can convey in words what this experience was like, but without a shared language as a group of people we crossed the divide and connected as women, as human beings, as sisters. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

The Mayan people have been the ‘survivors’ of decades long internal conflict (civil war), which not only killed 160,000 highlanders, and left a million homeless but also attacked the very foundation of indigenous culture in Guatemala. … it has been found that the military and civil patrols were accountable for 91 percent of the killings. Though the Peace accords were signed in 1996, Mayans continue to face incredible struggle, violence and discrimination. One of the speakers at our visit to a group of midwives in Zunil stated – ‘ we were not conquered, we were invaded, WE ARE STILL HERE !!!

They are amazing people and I was truly inspired by their generosity, courage and kindness.

Maximon – Maya folk saint - August 5

We had an opportunity early on Wednesday morning to stop and make our way down a narrow pathway off the streets of Zunil to visit and experience a unique Guatemalan cultural site.

We stopped at a small shop directly across from the site to purchase candles of varied colors representing wishes for health, love, travel or even black candles to put a ‘spell’ on someone. These trinkets are given as offerings to Maximon – San Simon.

I found by searching that:

A Quemaderos (sacred shrines) that are hidden places where shaman come to worship in secret. This blending of these beliefs gave us an opportunity to observe the veneration of a Maximon, a cigar smoking, whisky drinking statue that is worshiped as a living god. We visited the small village of Zunil, dominated by a stunning colonial church where the image of Maximón, a plastic tailor’s dummy dressed in ski wear, gloves, and sunglasses, is still openly revered with pomp and ceremony. He is a folk saint venerated in various forms by Maya people in several towns in the highlands of Western Guatemala.

The origins of his cult are not very well understood by outsiders to the different Mayan religions, but Maximón is believed to be a form of the pre- Columbian Maya god Mam, blended with influences from Catholicism. Maximón may also be called San Simón. Originally, he was believed to be a Catholic priest who

Maximón is generally dressed in European 18th century style, although with many local variations. In Santiago Atitlan he is adorned with many colorful garlands, while in Zunil (where he is known as San Simón) he has a much more intimidating style, with his face obscured by dark sunglasses and a bandanna.

I lite candles for love, health and travel for those I love - not sure I believe in it all - but it can't hurt - don't want to make Maximon mad anyway.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

US Embassy Meeting - August 7

15 of us arrived for our pre-planned meeting with Embassy officials. Security in the building is tight and after turning in our passports (info had to be sent ahead of time on who would attend along with our passport numbers - were we being screened before being allowed in ? - hum and these folks work for us?) we had to be escorted at all times in the building and moved in groups of 5. We were introduced to the folks that would spend the next hour and 1/2 with us. All except one were actually with USAID. What we came to learn was in the last few months there has been a complete turnover of staff in the areas that focus on human rights and women's rights sections of the Embassy. We met with Ronald Flores and 5 others representing our US system in Guatemala.

Having spent several hours over the previous days to prepare we had an agenda and speakers for each section pre-assigned. A very strategic decision we made was to have a moderator and as soon as we sat down we relayed our plan and it became clear it was our meeting and we would control the time we had together. I got to be the moderator - which was very challenging, but worked. Our goal was to ask the Embassy to consider Violence Against Women a priority in funding and in programmatic and strategic areas.

We wanted to address 5 areas overall which represented what we had seen and learned during our previous days of meetings and discussions: rule of law/impunity and democracy utilizing the Myrna Mack Foundation report, issues around databases that have been required by law for years - data that would provide consistent and reliable information on the demographic and investigative characteristics of femicide cases, funding for domestic violence programs in all 22 departments, education which would focus on economic justice and prevention, and discrimination against indigenous women.

We felt strongly that we were the voices for the women and families we had seen and that we have the privilege and opportunity as US citizens to question and ask how our foreign policy and money is being used in Guatemala. After attempts by GHRC and our group to get information on how much money we spend in Guate and what kind of programs we are supporting we finally got a half answer and were outraged to find that we only spend $500,000 a year on violence against women efforts in Guate. YET we are soon to send two helicoptors to them to fight the narcotics problems that cost $18 million each. With 2 women being murdered everyday in Guatemala and 722 dying last year we pressed that it was not enough funds or demonstrating enough committment from the US government to have the Guatemalan government do more to end this brutality against women.

Many in our group had long relationships with Guatemala and knew in depth the policies, history and practices of the US government, so they were able to challenge some of the responses we were hearing on resources, accountability and initatives aimed at ending the violence.

Speak Truth to Power !!!!

I guess I want to believe we all had the same aims to improve the situation, end the terror and fear women live with in this country and build a responsive and collaborative justice system, sadly though it is a deeply entrenched problem and the United States seems to have made other areas that have more possibility of economic benefit for our country to take precedent. We have the power to use US leverage in Guatemala to do more - our groups hopes to continue along with GHRC to ask for this for the people of this country.